Pianist  Helge  Antoni

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie





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Helge Antoni was born in Malmö (Sweden), on April 25, 1956. He studied at the Malmö Academy of Music with Stanislav Knor, and made his professional debut playing Franz Berwald's Piano Concerto. In 1979 he was the first Swedish musician to be awarded a British Council Fellowship, and continued his studies with Peter Feuchtwanger in London for 4 years.

A successful debut at the Mai Musical in Bordeaux led to a much acclaimed debut in Paris at the Salle Gaveau in 1982. The following year he also won the coveted Menuhin Prize.

Antoni's creative programming and his personal approach to audiences have
made him a much sought-after pianist worldwide both in solo recitals and in concertos with orchestra, including London's Wigmore Hall and St. John’s Smith Square; in The Hague, Philipszaal; in Paris, Salle Gaveau; in Bonn, Beethoven Saal; in Zurich, Tonhalle; in Stockholm, Berwald Hall; in Poland, Chopin's birthplace, Zelazowa Wola (recorded for Polish Television), Chopin Festival in Duszniki, Chopin Institute and Chopin Monument in Warsaw; in Norway, Grieg's house, Troldhaugen (recorded for French Television). In Italy he was the first pianist to have been invited to give an "Hommage to Wilhelm Kempff“ recital in the late master's Casa Orfeo Foundation in Positano; in North America, Kennedy Center Washington D. C., Chicago, Orchestra Hall, and San Francisco, Masonic Hall; in South America, Sociedad Filarmonica, Lima (Peru), and Sala Dorada in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Antoni also enjoys playing chamber music, and has worked with the distinguished sopranos Elisabeth Söderström and Janet Perry, the leading trumpeter Håkan Hardenberger, and the Lysell String Quartet. Antoni has performed extensively on television and radio as a guest artist, as well as presenting his own series. His Classic Video-Clip, one of the first of its kind, has reached a wide audience.

He has made several highly acclaimed
records for the Etcetera label, including the piano works of Christian Sinding, featuring the famous Rustle of Spring, and the world premiere recording of his masterpiece, Variations Op. 94: Fatum. He has also recorded works by Edvard Grieg, and Rossini's piano works (including several world premiere recordings).


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His CD, Chopin/Field highlights influences and parallels between the two
composers. His album "The Piano Experience“, on the Swedish label dB Productions, is a recital tracking 300 Years of keyboard music from Couperin to Pärt, with world premiere recordings, and featuring works written for and dedicated to him. The Gramophone magazine said, "ravishingly beautiful ... superbly played with a beautiful singing tone and the most poetic phrasing“. The American Record Guide said, "Antoni's technique is ample, his tone richly colored, and his understanding of the composer's special sound world absolute.“

Antoni has been the Artistic Director of the Late Summer Nights Music Festival
in Norway, and the Mozart Festival, as well as the "Concerti al Tramonto“ Festival at the San Michele Foundation on Capri. Since 2002 he is Artist-in-residence at the German University Witten/Herdecke. From 2004 until 2008 he spent large periods every year in Lima (Peru), where he created a Foundation to help young musicians.

Antoni lives in Paris
, and is an Exclusive Steinway Artist.

==  Names which are links in this box and below refer to my interviews elsewhere on my website.  BD  





Helge Antoni was in Chicago at the beginning of May, 1990, for a recital at Orchestra Hall.  Two days before the performance, he agreed to do an interview, and we discussed his artistry both live and on disc.

As we settled in for the conversation, we spoke about his recordings . . . . .

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Bruce Duffie:   Do you play the same in the recording studio as you do in the concert hall?

Helge Antoni:   I doubt that very much.  When you record pieces that you’ve performed a lot, you have a basic approach, but it is quite different when you play in a recording studio, or in a concert hall.  It depends on so many things, so it is quite different.  I’m sure that my Grieg Ballade, which I will play here in Chicago, will be probably quite different from the one I did on the recording two years ago [shown at right].

BD:   Better, or worse, or just different?

Antoni:   [Smiles]  I hope always it will be better.  That’s the greatest compliment any artist can get, when people hear you and say that they think it has gotten richer.  It’s not just the notes on a recording.  It’s rather good, but the impact of the music, and the depth of feeling grows as well as I do.  So, I hope for that.

BD:   Are you constantly striving to find new things?

Antoni:   Yes.  The fact that your life goes on, and you learn things, goes into your music.  If you hear recordings of your own done years ago, you notice that very much so.  You see the difference in depth.

BD:   Does something that happens to you that particular day influence how you play?  If you stubbed your toe, or if you’ve had a wonderful phone call, would that affect your performance?

Antoni:   Many times, what I’ve noticed is that if you’re in a good mood, and you feel right, it is much more smooth.  But sometimes you can be not in a good mood, and the concert will still be really something special.  A concert has so much to do with the audience and the performer, the communion that is created between us.  I’ve heard so many wonderful things about Orchestra Hall, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, but also of the audience here.  So, I am very much looking forward to that.  The fact that my program is half Scandinavian, and then the rest is Schubert and Chopin is because Chicago was, at one point, the biggest Swedish city in the world.  Although this is Norwegian music, we have very much a Scandinavian feel.  You don’t have Sweden and Norway, but we are Scandinavians... at least at a distance.  [Laughs]

BD:   Is there ever any thought of making the United States of Scandinavia?

Antoni:   No, but honestly speaking, we are like brothers from the different countries.  We have definite national traits, but much fewer differences than likenesses.

BD:   You come from Malmö, so what are the particular Swedish traits that you have?

Antoni:   I was born in the South, yes, in the third biggest city, which is called Malmö, just opposite Denmark, which is, in many ways, much closer in spirit to Denmark than, say, Stockholm.  Also, physically the landscape and everything is very Danish, very flat.

BD:   You’re just a ferry-ride away?

Antoni:   Yes, we’re thirty minutes away, but all that is minute details because I have lived away from Sweden now for practically twelve years.  I live now in Paris for the past eight years, and before that in London.  Nevertheless, I play a lot of Scandinavian composers.  I love to share that with my audience, in between Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin and the rest.  I always feel myself as a Scandinavian, and then Swedish.  If I say I’m a European, then you come to being Scandinavian, and lastly Swedish.  We have so many likenesses, musically speaking.

BD:   Then let me make it one step broader.  What is about music of Sinding. or some of the others that you play, that is particularly Scandinavian?

Antoni:   There’s a definite feel that the folksong is impregnated.  This music of Grieg and Sinding were, in many ways, quite different, one from the other, but there are harmonies and melodic traits that no composer could have written if he wasn’t Scandinavian.  You feel that.  Grieg has often been said to have quoted a lot, and most of his melodies are inspired by folksong, which is true, but very few of his melodies are actual folk music.  There’s only one piece in my program, for instance, and that is the Ballade.  The theme is actual folk music, which is very beautiful, but his harmonies and everything else are his own.

BD:   But the whole influence is there?

Antoni:   Yes, exactly.  Sinding had a language, in a way, which was more international, in the best sense of the word.  It was more the sort of European musical language in tradition of Liszt, but even he has a Scandinavian spice, and I see that very well.

BD:   Does this Scandinavian spice touch the hearts of Scandinavians more than it touches Europeans or Americans, or does it touch all people?

Antoni:   Like every piece of good music, true music touches everybody.  Take Chopin.  He’s a Polish composer, yes and no, but it’s the music that is from the depth of a great composer which touches everybody.  That’s the wonderful thing... when you’re a performer, you can show that, and you can share this love that you have for a certain music with the audience.  I know that they will feel it.

BD:   You’ve played all over the world.  Are audiences different from city to city, and country to country?

Antoni:   Yes, and it’s fascinating how different the audiences are.  I like American audiences because, as far as I’ve felt, they’re very good listeners.  They’re a wonderfully enthusiastic crowd, as well, I feel.  They’re really with you... at least where I played in America so far.  I’ve never played in Chicago, so let’s see what happens, but I feel that Americans are very open to much in their emotions, and that triggers something in me.  French audiences are very nice.  They’re very Latin, very quick in their reactions and enthusiasm.  You can have a ‘bravo’ shout out at you just after the first piece, which in Scandinavia would never happen.  Scandinavian people are more calm in their reactions.  They’re not so extrovert, but that doesn’t mean they don’t listen acutely.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   You have this huge array of literature to choose from.  How do you decide which pieces you will select for each program, or for each season?

Antoni:   It is the great adventure of being a performer, and, as you say, we pianists have such an enormous repertoire to choose from.  What I like to do is investigate repertoire that’s not so often played.  I like mixing my programs with pieces that are in the current repertoire, and also others that are not.  This program here in Chicago, for instance, is a good example of that.  For instance, the Grieg Lyric Pieces everybody knows, and they have been played, but how many people know his greatest piece of solo piano, the Ballade, which is a twenty-minute chunk of music?  I like to present that.  Then, when you play Chopin or Schubert, every program should have a little piece of discovery for the audience.  I have a very eclectic repertoire.  I play everything from Scarlatti to contemporary.  This program is very romantic, but what amused me was to have the Scandinavian Romanticism, then with the Middle-European style with Chopin and Schubert.

antoni BD:   Once you have made your selections, do you take the same concert around with you, or do you play many different concerts each season?

Antoni:   Many different ones.  I mix them up.  I do mainly solo recitals and concerto appearances, but this season I’ve had great fun doing some concerts with my great compatriot, Elisabeth Söderström [shown at left].

BD:   She is a wonderful soprano!

Antoni:   Yes.  We’ve done a wonderfully funny program, very beautiful, if I may say so myself.  It’s called ‘Scandinavian Serenade’, where we mix the most beautiful songs of all the great Scandinavian composers with beautiful piano pieces.  So, it’s a mixed bag, and we have done a television series with that as well.  That will probably come to America eventually.  So, I do those kinds of things, and also some chamber music.   It’s very rewarding, and this season has been very rich in all kinds of different programs.

BD:   How do you divide your career then among all these combinations?

Antoni:   It takes a lot of work, and my agent does that.  Some seasons you have a lot of concerto dates and fewer recitals, and other seasons it’s more mixed.  Next season I will do more concertos than recitals, so it’s always different.  That’s what I like about it, because the great thing about the piano repertoire is that you can never learn the entire gamut.  You’re always learning, learning, learning.  It’s a great job, because you can never say that you now have it all under your fingers.

BD:   Is there a time when you’d say you have a certain piece under your fingers?

Antoni:   [Laughs]  You hope so, but there’s always things.  In a concert, you can have a sudden inspiration to do it differently, and you must always feel capable of doing that.  You can never say that you *know* this piece!  You always discover things.

BD:   Is there ever a case where you never want to play a certain piece of music again?

Antoni:   It has happened to me, yes, but very rarely.  It happened once with a modern piece that I did, which I invested with a lot of hours of practicing, and afterwards I didn’t feel that it was really good enough.  It wasn’t convincingly written, but that you can only see when you’ve performed it on a number of occasions.

BD:   So you were glad you’d given it a try?

Antoni:   Yes, exactly!  That’s what you have to do.

BD:   What is it about a piece of music that makes it convincing for you?

Antoni:   First of all, a piece of music must speak.  As I said at the beginning, it must come from within the composer, and when that brain-work is constructed, something comes from a very deep emotion.  He wanted to say something, and that is what I, as a performer, must feel that I can convey.  When that works, then the special bond with the audience happens.  But it’s very difficult with some modern pieces, because you have to give them a try.  You have to give them life, so to speak.  We, the performers, are the life-givers of music, because otherwise it’s just getting dusty on the shelf.  So, I feel a great responsibility towards modern composers, and I do a lot of first performances.  I have had pieces written for me, and I like that.  You have to make music live, especially to show that the piano is not just an old-music instrument.  You must demonstrate that it’s very much alive.

antoni BD:   What advice do you have for composers who want to write something for you and your particular talents?

Antoni:   If they want to write especially for me, then perhaps they should come to a couple of concerts and see.  [He laughs]  But otherwise, when a composer has something very personal to say, then that’s something within that has to come out.

BD:   What advice do you have for other pianists coming along who want to learn how to play the instrument to the best of their ability?

Antoni:   [Laughs]  Being a pianist is fascinating.  It’s a wonderful profession, but it’s very hard work, as everybody knows.  What a young pianist should do is listen to singers for phrasing
and to other musiciansbecause what we have in the piano is, in many ways, a very dangerous instrument.  You don’t feel it in the physical sense, like singers when they phrase, or an oboe player, or a violinist.  Everything is very natural there, but the piano is, in that sense, mechanical.  What we do is create an illusion of being able to sing.  The basis of all music is singing, and that is a great challengeto make the piano really speakbecause a piano can be a terrible sounding music box if you just press down the keys.  Young pianists should be very careful not to get into that rut of playing the piano like a ‘mere pianist’, but to try and be inspired by an orchestral sound, and the colors of the other instruments.  Try and make the black and while keyboard sound.  Just imagine what Horowitz could do color-wise.  That’s why, for a pianist, the best thing is to listen a lotnot just to other pianists, but mainly to great singers, and most definitely very old singers from the great times, almost seventy or eighty years ago.  There are old recordings of the great, great singers of the past, which I’ve been very inspired by.  When you do a Chopin Nocturne, if you don’t know the bel canto tradition, how can you really play it the way Chopin conceived it?

BD:   Should pianists take a few voice lessons?

Antoni:   That wouldn’t hurt.  It would be excellent, and I’ve learned a lot from working with somebody like Elisabeth Söderström.  I must say, I learned a lot from her, and by playing with wind instruments.  I did a tour this season with a wind quintet in Scandinavia, which was fascinating.  We did a whole Beethoven program, and it is fascinating what you learn from your fellow musicians.  The piano, as such, has a mechanical side to it, which is very dangerous, and that’s why we pianists should listen to other musicians, and especially singers.

BD:   You have to get beyond your mere technique?

Antoni:   Exactly!  Technique, in the true sense, is to have complete array of expression, and to be able to present it.  Somebody like Jorge Bolet does a very beautiful phrasing of a Schubert/Liszt transcription, and I remember him telling me that he listened to old singers.  He phrases more beautifully than many singers nowadays do.  It takes a lot of hard work to phrase well on the piano.

BD:   Is there a camaraderie amongst pianists?

Antoni:   In many ways, we are the loneliest of musicians because we are so self-sufficient.  We don’t need anybody else.  To have a piano recital is a one-man show par excellence.  It’s extraordinary.  You have two hours of music, and it’s just a pianist and his piano.  It’s not like a violinist and others in an orchestra.  I always think of the pianist as a lone wolf.  We travel all over the world as a soloist.  It’s a very lonely profession in that respect.  I have met some of my colleagues in airports...  [Both laugh]

BD:   Do you like being a wandering minstrel?

Antoni:   Yes, I do.  If you don’t, you shouldn’t be doing this.  I like traveling, but you have to get used to your own company.  Many times that’s very good for you.  You have the wonderful privilege of giving happiness to people, and that, to me, is very, very inspiring.  But a lot of people forget what goes into it.  They see the performer coming on stage.  He gets applause, and some people think that this profession is terribly glamorous.  You drink champagne, and yes, all that happens, but the six or seven hours a day of intense practicing, and the very tough traveling schedule are often forgotten.  They don’t see all that.  They just see the performance.  They shouldn’t have to be bored with the rest, but one has to realize how much it takes for a performance to actually arrive.

BD:   Should the audience be aware of all the work that goes into perfecting the music?

Antoni:   T
hat is very difficult to really understand.  Like everything, unless you know the nitty-gritty yourself, a lot of people get shocked when they hear that you sit there six or seven hours a day practicing.  It’s a very disciplined life.  It would be interesting for them to know you don’t just sit down and play.  Of course, when the actual performance happens, even the most difficult pieces shouldn’t look hard.  I’m a great believer in that you must present the music in the purest form.  The technical details shouldn’t get in the way of the music.  It sounds, perhaps, a little strange expressing it that way, but a performer must master the music to such a degree that even if it’s the most difficult piece, it mustn’t appear physically difficult.  It should be on such a level that it appears to just happen.

BD:   [With a gentle nudge]  You’re not camouflaging any of the details, are you?

Antoni:   No!  [Laughs]  I hope not.

BD:   Do you have any expectations of the audience who comes to hear a recital or a concerto?

Antoni:   My expectation is that they are open to my music-making.  It’s the give-and-take.  People forget how important they are when they sit in the audience, because their giving to the performer is very, very important.  My favorite word, which I said at the beginning, is communion.  It really is.  It’s not just the performer who sits down and plays, and then the audience gives its applause.  With their listening capacity, the music gets intensified, and the performer gets inspired, also.  It’s very much give-and-take in a recital.  That’s the most important.  That’s what I love doing, because I feel that this giving music is really love.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   When you come to a new city, and you meet a new piano, how long does it take you to adjust to whatever piano is on stage that night?

Antoni:   As a pianist, you have the difficulty that you don’t bring your own instrument.  Very few pianists in the world
perhaps five or sixbring their own instruments.  So, as a professional pianist, you have to get used to a new piano very quickly.  That is just part of the professionalism.  Here in Chicago, I’m lucky because I can try them the day before, and then again on the same day.  Sometimes you only have a few hours on the same day.  A lot of people forget that.  There are two types of Steinways.  There’s the Hamburg Steinway made in Germany, and the American Steinway, and these two instruments, although they have the same name, are quite different, although they have things in common.  I would probably choose the Hamburg Steinway.  They have the same name, but the feel of the instrument is very much different.

antoni BD:   Is it nice to come to a city and actually have this choice?

Antoni:   I love it!  It’s great that you have that here.  Not all cities in America have that.

BD:   When you come to a new piano, do you try to make it sound like you, or do you try to simply get the best out of the piano at hand?

Antoni:   It’s both.  It really is both, because hopefully the piano will react quickly, and it will be a musical instrument, so to speak.  But you have to try, and when everything works, and when the piano is wonderful, it just flows.  But that’s not often the case, because there are often little flaws in instruments.  What’s very important is that just like a singer, I do a lot of work on tone.  That’s very important for a pianist.  Say that you have ten different pianists playing on the same piano.  That piano will sound ten different ways.  It is interesting that such a wooden box of a piano which is there, and the touch of each pianist is different.  That’s very important.

BD:   So, each player brings out himself or herself through the instrument?

Antoni:   Yes, exactly.  But far more attention should be devoted to the actual tone of the piano, because the old pianists were all very, very different.  You hear about five notes, and you always know who’s playing.  Nowadays, there’s been less of this personality difference.  It has to do with recordings.  A lot of people listen to recordings, and then try and imitate.

BD:   There’s been this complaint that most of the new pianists now are more homogenous.

Antoni:   Yes, it sounds somewhat the same, and that’s very sad because we are all very different.

BD:   Do you try to be different and yourself all the time?

Antoni:   I just try to be myself, which is hard enough!  [Both laugh]  But for every artist, that is the most important thing
to be true to thine own self.

BD:   Are you being true to you, or are you being true to the composer?

Antoni:   I have to be both, because I have to present the composer’s wishes.  But it passes through my system, and, as I said before, I mustn’t be in the way.  It’s terrible when a performer puts his own little things in to a degree that gets in the way.  But it passes through me, and my personality, and the music comes out my way.  But, of course, it’s the composer’s thoughts.  It’s a difficult question, but you must follow your instincts.

BD:   This gets into the whole area of interpretation.  How far do you dare to stretch the music, or must you leave it alone?

Antoni:   That’s a very, very compound question.  You have to study the texts very, very intensely, and then your way of doing it is, of course, your way.  You can’t say,
This the composer’s way, because it’s an interpretation.  I think it was Busoni who said that even the composer, when he writes the music down from what he hears, it’s already a transcription.  So, when it comes to the third step with the performer, of course, we’re already going on.  But I try very much to get into the spirit of the composer, and then I want to just let it flow.  At the very best of times, that’s what happens.

BD:   Do you try to get into the spirit of the composer as he was 100, or 150, or 200 years ago, even though we’ve come through World Wars, and Depressions, and atomic bombs, and everything else?

Antoni:   We can get into the spirit, yes, but not in the way they listened to music, or conceived music even 100 years ago.  Our life is different, but the truest sense of the music, you can feel that spirit if you open yourself to it.  With the composers I perform, I feel like they’re real intimate friends.  I have had extraordinary experiences.  You almost feel their presence sometimes.  You sense that they are with you.  I had that when I was recording the Sinding disc [shown here].  In the great piece of the album, the Fatum Variations, Op 94, which is thirty-two minutes long, there were some things I couldn’t understand.  I was working on it, and I was thinking about what he wanted.  Suddenly, almost like a vision, I felt how it should be.  It was as if the composer said,
“Now it’s taking you too long.  A lot of performers have such an intense working relationship with these composers that they become really part of you.

BD:   Does it ever become obsessive or compulsive?

Antoni:   Sometimes it can get very obsessive, because you have to get to the core of the matter.  Sometimes you have to really beat your head against the wall, and then suddenly it’s there.

BD:   Is there ever a case where you could over-analyze some of the notes that are on the page?

Antoni:   I think so, yes.  It can get perhaps too much, and that’s why it’s very dangerous if you learn music too quickly.  You should always give it time.  Of course, you have to sometimes learn pieces very quickly, but the best thing is to give it time, leave it, and then come back to it.  That’s the wonderful thing... when you are growing with music, and, over the years, you play pieces that you’ve played since you were little, now, as a man, and afterwards when you get old, it goes with you.  Hopefully it grows all the time, and that’s fascinating.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Is playing the piano, fun?

Antoni:   Oh, yes!  I love playing the piano.  I think the piano is, in itself, one of the most incredible instruments because you can play everything.  Here you are with ten fingers, and you can re-create practically every piece of music ever written.  You can have an entire opera score in your hands.  You can have a symphony.  It is a rather extraordinary instrument, to put it understatedly.  But what I love is the fact that you have all this magnificent repertoire just to dive into, and you can always find treasures of all kinds.  It happens all the time.  It’s almost like the composers come knocking at the door saying,
What about me?  My two new records to be made next season are absolutely fascinating repertoire-wise.  They will have music by composers that are not really in the current repertoire.

BD:   Older composers or living composers?

Antoni:   Older ones.

BD:   But you do also champion the living composers?

Antoni:   Oh yes, I do, but I try to champion every composer that comes my way and speaks to me, no matter if it’s an old composer or a young composer.  We, the performers, are the champions of the composers.  [Quietly sings We Are the Champions]  [Much laughter all around]


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BD:   Will you be back in Chicago?

Antoni:   I hope.  Right now, I take one step at a time.  I have my recital here, and I hope I’ll have the audience liking what I do.

BD:   I hope so, too.

Antoni:  
[Turning the tables as we were about to finish]  Tell me about your special Swedish program.

BD:   This month I’m doing a special program for Swedish Music Day.  That’s a worldwide observance on the last Saturday of May, and I always make sure to remember it.  This year, I’m going to use an interview with [music administrator] Bengt Olof Engström.  Do you know him?

Antoni:   Oh yes.

BD:   He and Hans Åstrand were here a couple of years ago for the 350th anniversary of the first Swedish Colony in Delaware.  They popped over to Chicago for a couple of days, and I talked to both of them.


cover Bengt Olof Engström, born May 25, 1926, is a Swedish music administrator and music educator.

He studied at the Royal Academy of Music 1945–1952, was organist and music teacher in Iggesund 1952–1955 and music teacher at the municipal girls' school in Uppsala 1955–1958. He was a music consultant at Stockholm's school board 1958–1961 and curator at Norrköping Orchestra Association 1961–1964. Engström was a music consultant at the National Board of Education 1964–1969, senior lecturer at the Umeå University of Education 1969–1973 and CEO and concert hall manager of the Stockholm Concert Hall Foundation 1976–1986. Engström was elected as member no. 808 of the Royal Academy of Music on February 24, 1977 and was its vice president 1992–1994.

Engström has published a large amount of teaching materials for music teaching, including the widely used We make music . After his retirement, he defended his dissertation New Song in the Church of the Fathers , where he examines the use of the Swedish Book of Psalms in 1986 in the Church of Sweden.


Hans Åstrand, born February 5, 1925 in Bredaryd parish, Jönköping county, is a Swedish music writer and music administrator. He studied organ, double bass, and cello; also took courses in Romance languages at the Univ. of Lund (Licentiate, 1958). He was music critic of the Malmö newspaper Kvällsposten (from 1950), founder-director of the Chamber Choir ’53 (1953–62), and founder (1960) and director (1965–71) of the Ars Nova Soc. for New Music. From 1963 to 1971 he taught music history at the Malmò National School of Drama, and then was music critic of Stockholm’s Veckojournalen (from 1976).

He served as ed. in chief of the fundamental Swedish musical encyclopedia, Sohlmans musik-lexikon (5 vols., Stockholm, 1975-79). He was a board member (from 1966) and perpetual secretary (from 1973) of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music in Stockholm. In 1983 he was made a prof. and in 1985 received an honorary doctorate at the Univ. of Lund. Åstrand. He also contributed various articles on musicological and general music subjects to many books and journals.


[A large philatelic presentation of this event is shown at the bottom of this webpage]  



Antoni:   [Laughs]  It’s wonderful that you do a thing like that.  There are fascinating composers from Sweden.  [Wilhelm] Stenhammar (1871-1927) now has become very international.  Henry Fogel [manager of the Chicago Symphony] told me they did some of his works.

BD:   We had his Piano Concerto with Cristina Ortiz.  That was very well-received.  I have also aired some music by Wilhelm Peterson-Berger (1867-1942).

Antoni:   Peterson-Berger, yes.  Another is Tor Aulin (1866-1914).  He’s a wonderful one.

BD:   What other Swedish composers should I be watching for, either old or new?

Antoni:   Besides Stenhammar, there is [Franz] Berwald (1796-1868).

BD:   We have played his symphonies.

Antoni:   Yes, and I play his Piano Concerto, which is a fun piece.  Then you have the latter-day ones.  I played quite a bit of Anders Eliasson (1947-2013), who is a fascinating, really wonderful composer.  When I played at the Kennedy Center last season, I did his Disegno for piano, and people really liked that music.

BD:   What about Pettersson?

Antoni:   Allan Pettersson (1911-1980), yes.  His symphonies are very often played, and some of them are really first rate.  Sometimes I feel that perhaps people go a little overboard, saying everything he wrote was magnificent.  I don’t think it’s true, but there are at least three symphonies that are absolutely world class, and there are some songs.

BD:   There’s one [his final completed symphony, #16] which includes saxophone.  Frederick Hemke requested it and recorded it.

Antoni:   How wonderful.  He’s a very, very true composer, and he really followed his inner visions.  A very special composer, and the symphonies are very big pieces.

BD:   Are there a few young composers that I should watch for?

Antoni:   There are some rather interesting young ones.  You might hear music by Anders Hillborg (1954 -  ) soon.  He’s very good, and there are two Sandströms.  One is Sven-David (1942-2019), and the other is Jan (1954 -  ).  Both are very, very interesting.  There’s a lot of music happening in Sweden now.  [Jan wrote his Motorbike Concerto for trombonist Christian Lindberg.]

BD:   Thank you for chatting with me today.

Antoni:   Thank you very much.




In 1988, the 350th anniversary of New Sweden was celebrated with a joint stamp issue involving the US, Sweden and Finland. New Sweden was Sweden's attempt at colonization in the New World. The majority of those that came to start and develop New Sweden traced their roots to Sweden and Finland; it's important to realize that Finland was a part of Sweden at the time Sweden launched its colonization expeditions.

Under the leadership of Peter Minuit, two ships left Sweden in December 1637 bound for the New World to establish New Sweden. The larger of the two ships was the Kalmar Nyckel, with the smaller being the Fogel Grip. The ships arrived in the New World in March 1638, sailing first through Delaware Bay and up the Delaware River, and then up a smaller river that branched off the Delaware River's western shore; the smaller river would be named the Christina River in honor of Queen Christina of Sweden. The colonists landed at a rock outcropping a couple of miles from the mouth of the river in what is today Wilmington, Delaware. From the local Native Americans, the Lenni-Lenape, Peter Minuit purchased the "land from the Christina River down to Bombay Hook" (roughly the northern half of present-day Delaware) and claimed it for Sweden -- it was the start of the colony of New Sweden.

In this series there are four First Day Covers, one for the US stamp, one for Sweden's issue and one for the Finland stamp, plus one with all three stamps. The first day of issue for the commemorative stamp program was March 29, 1988 - exactly 350 years after the colonists first stepped ashore on "the rocks" along the Christina River and launched their new colony. The three individual covers were each postmarked in the issuing country, and the joint FDC was cancelled in all three countries.


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© 1990 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded in Chicago on May 4, 1990.  Portions were broadcast on WNIB the following year, and again in 1996.  This transcription was made in 2021, and posted on this website at that time.  My thanks to British soprano Una Barry for her help in preparing this website presentation.

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.

Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001.  His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.

You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests.  He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago.  You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.